Breaking Barriers: Top Female Race Car Drivers in History

Breaking Barriers: Top Female Race Car Drivers in History

Since automotive racing burst onto the scene, it has been a male-dominated enterprise. When you think of racing, such as NASCAR, drag racing, or Indycar, your mind probably doesn’t go to the few women who’ve managed to break down gender barriers and find their place in the sport. Though racing is still majorly dominated by men, there have been several women who’ve made their mark in various aspects of motor racing. In honor of National Women’s Month, we’re taking a closer look at the female race car drivers who have made the biggest impact on gaining equality for women in auto racing.

Shout out to: Sara Christian

As the first woman to ever compete in a NASCAR event, Sara Christian first stepped into the male-dominated sport in 1949. Her seven-race career found some success, as she finished sixth at Langhorne Speedway, and fifth at Heidelberg Raceway. Though her career was short, she was the first female driver to break gender barriers in NASCAR, paving the way for many other women in the sport that would follow in her footsteps.

Shout out to: Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie was smashing gender barriers in NASCAR racing in the early 70s, becoming the first woman to compete in a NASCAR race at the 1976 World 600. In that race, she finished 15th, a few spots ahead of legendary champion Dale Earnhardt. Just one year later, Guthrie raced in the Daytona 500, where she was named ‘Rookie of the Year’ following her twelfth place finish.

Furthermore, Guthrie also competed in Indycars, finishing ninth in the 1978 Indy 500, after attempting in both 1976 and 1977 with little success. Her ninth place finish silenced many critics who felt as though women didn’t belong in the sport. Guthrie, along with Danica Patrick, were the only two women to race in both NASCAR and Indycar sanctioned competitions.

Shout out to: Shirley Muldowney

Coined the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Shirley Muldowney is considered one of the all time great female drivers in history. As a teenager, she fell in love with racing, winning the IHRA Southern Nationals in 1971. A few short years later, she clinched the World Championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982.

Considered royalty in the drag racing world, Muldowney was the first woman to ever win a championship in any NHRA drag racing class. Her trailblazing efforts earned her the respect of racing fans across the industry, both male and female alike. But most importantly, her career paved the way for female drivers’ respect and acknowledgement in drag racing–a sport that had been revered as a man’s game since its inception. Thanks to Muldowney, drag racing in the US is one of the most diverse racing communities, with plenty of female drivers.

Shout out to: Danica Patrick

Arguably the most well-known female race car driver is Danica Patrick, who is the most successful female driver in both NASCAR and Indycar history. Patrick is an icon, who many young girls with dreams of racing look up to.

Patrick began her spotlighted career in 2005, when she led 19 laps of the Indy 500, eventually finishing in fourth place. In 2012, she transitioned to a full-time NASCAR career. In 2013, she became the first woman ever to win the Daytona 500 pole. Additionally, she is one of only two women to have competed in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, along with Janet Guthrie.

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